TORONTO- Recognized by most in the crowd as a puck moving, offense first, blue liner, Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Jesse Blacker is hoping his time with the Toronto Marlies can change that.
“I don’t see myself as an offensive defenseman,” said Blacker. “I think defence first and chip in offensively when I can. I’d like to be known as a two-way defenseman.”
Since being drafted by the Leafs in 2009, the 20 year old’s name has always come up in discussions about how he has the potential to be a threat on the power play. And, as recently as this past training camp, he was pinned as a future one-two quarterback pairing with Jake Gardiner.
But rarely does anyone discuss what he could offer at both ends of the rink.
Blacker’s ability to jump into the offence, like Gardiner, is based on his top fundamental; skating.
“My skating is a big help,” he said. “It gets me out of trouble sometimes when I put myself into it.”
Through seven games this season with the Marlies, his offence, as expected, has been of no concern. He’s played on the power play, has four assists and is a plus-2 to show for it.
But even with his offensive numbers meeting expectations, it’s his willingness to improve in his own zone that has head coach Dallas Eakins the most pleased.
“He’s been playing well for us,” said Eakins when asked about the OHL grads play in his own zone. “He’s more patient than before. We’d like him to be even more patient but he’s so quick to try and put out the fire. He’s a great kid to watch. He’s a much more settled defenseman.”
With his coach gaining trust in his ability, Blacker is now finding extra minutes on the penalty kill; a new role that’s helped in finding his confidence.
“Every game I feel like I’m getting a little bit better,” he said. “I’m getting used to the size and speed of everyone. It’s a change but I’m getting more comfortable and having some more confidence to try things and its turning into playing time.”
There is still no time frame on when he will be seen in a Leafs uniform but, with his role increasing with the Marlies, Eakins assured that the organization is pleased with his game.
“This kid’s coming along nicely,” he said. “I think he’s been good for us so far and he’s right on track.”
Realistically, the offensive side of Blacker’s game has already been proven.
Now it’s up to him to be the two-way blue liner he wants to be and not just the puck mover he was in junior.
“My defence has come a long way since I was first drafted.”